COVID-19 has suddenly and aggressively threatened to tear a Pensacola family apart, but it’s the tight-knit nature of that family that is keeping the threat at bay.
Stelios Peterson, owner of the Greek’s Catering and Events food truck, and his father, Dean Peterson, have each spent portions of the past two weeks hospitalized with COVID-19. Dean, the former owner of Maria’s Seafood, is still admitted at West Florida Hospital where he is fighting the deadly virus.
Cristin Peterson, Stelios’ wife, has spent the past two weeks in a hotel room, mostly alone, looking after her 1-year-old daughter Alexia as she comes up on the 38-week-mark of her second pregnancy. This convoluted family catastrophe is a result of COVID-19 and Hurricane Sally intersecting last week and impacting all pockets of the Peterson family’s lives.
“It was the night before Hurricane Sally hit that Stelios came down with a fever and a scratch in his throat,” Cristin explained. “He thought, ‘Maybe I’m worn down.’ Because we had been up late trying to prepare for the storm, where to park the food truck, all of that sort of stuff. And he didn’t think much of it. But when the hurricane hit, he started to feel worse.”
That Thursday, Sept. 17, the Petersons did their best to maneuver through Sally’s debris and find a rapid COVID-19 testing site, but they had no luck locally. Cristin said they had to drive — in separate vehicles, and through extreme flooding — to get to the next nearest testing site with power and electricity, which wound up being Andalusia, Alabama.
There, the family learned Stelios did indeed have the coronavirus. Cristin, and the couple’s infant daughter, Alexia, tested negative.
“Then it was like, ‘What are we going to do?’ Because we had to find somewhere to stay,'” Cristin said. “We called my dad, who is friends with a guy who owns a hotel (in Pensacola), and so thankfully, he was able to get Alexia and I a room. But at the same time, I’m worried about Stelios being home by himself.”
As Cristin scrambled with logistical issues, the family soon learned that Dean, who that week sought refuge from the storm in Ocala, tested positive for COVID-19 as well. In short order, the family found out that the virus had surged through the family, as Cristin’s mother, sister and brother-in-law also tested positive.
The latter three were asymptomatic and are virus-free today, Cristin said. But Dean — who only a few years ago fell into a coma after suffering a serious heart attack — is still hospitalized.
“All that’s going on and I was just trying to keep the business going,” Cristin said Thursday.
The Greek’s food truck, ironically, has succeeded to the point of expansion during the pandemic. Stationed mostly at Hillcrest Church off of Spanish Trail and Summit Drive in Pensacola, Greek’s saw a spike in business when restaurants shut down in the spring, rendering food trucks as the only culinary game in town for a time.
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The business boom allowed the Petersons to buy a bigger trailer for their home location at Hillcrest Church, while sending their other truck out on a weekly rotating schedule four or five days a week. The family also operated at high school concession stands across Pensacola and Gulf Breeze.
Days away from going into labor and already burdened with multiple virus-stricken loved ones, Cristin recognized she had to devote at least some attention to the business her family had worked so hard to push forward over the past number of years.
“We worked really hard to build it up, so I didn’t want to let anything fall through the cracks due to me not doing things well enough,” she said.
Stelios and Dean were admitted into the hospital Sept. 22 and Sept. 23, respectively. Since then, the Petersons have halted their mobile truck and ceased concession duties. On Saturday, their stationary truck on Spanish Trail closed, which was the day Cristin informed the truck’s Facebook following of the family’s plight.
Close to 150 well-wishing comments poured in under that post, one that Cristin hesitated to even share. But she said she’s glad she did, because the support has meant a lot to her family.
“Reading all those messages is so uplifting for me. It gives me a lot of peace,” Cristin said. “Supporting our business is one thing but for people to take it to the next level and take genuine concern in our family, we couldn’t wish for anything more than that.”
Their main truck on Spanish Trail was only closed for the one day, and Cristin said none of her employees at Greek’s apart from her aforementioned immediate family members were exposed to the virus.
Stelios was feeling well enough to be discharged from the hospital late last week — where he spent time receiving treatment on the COVID-19 floor — but Cristin said he has been basically bed-ridden since returning home and is still very much feeling the effects of the virus.
She added that her father-in-law, Dean, sat up in a chair recently at West Florida Hospital, which was a big step in his potential recovery, but he still appears to have a “long road” ahead of him.
“They both got some plasma treatment. Stelios did OK responding to it, but they didn’t see a big difference in his dad,” Cristin said. “And they didn’t want to give him anymore because of his mortality ratio. He hasn’t gotten worse, but he hasn’t gotten better.”
Despite a rather stagnant situation with Stelios’ and Dean’s conditions, the Peterson family remains hopeful, unified and tight-knit — especially when it comes to Cristin, who is on the verge of giving birth but must spend these final few days of her pregnancy away from Stelios to avoid infection.
“My mom’s taking care of (Stelios), so I can say I have some comfort with that,” Cristin said. “My sister’s husband fought off the virus and was cleared, and he came back to work this week with the business, so he’s helping us out. My sister, she’ll run to the store for us and different things like that.
“We would not make it through this without each other,” she added. “Even with all this separation, the support system is vital to get through anything in life. But especially this.”
Florida recently moved to phase 3 of re-opening the state, as Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted most coronavirus restrictions, including opening restaurants back up to 100%.
While hospitalizations on a local and state level have decreased, Cristin said her family’s bout with COVID-19 this fall has served as a stark reminder that the virus is still very real and still deserves to be taken seriously.
“I hope that people do realize it is still very serious,” she said. “Obviously, we always took it seriously in making sure we kept our customers and our team safe, but it hits on a different level with so many people in our family impacted all at once. So, we hope people still stay diligent and take care of themselves.”
The home location of the primary Greek’s food truck is 3960 Spanish Trail.
Jake Newby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8538.
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